Seven months after California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a controversial bill that would mandate the teaching of ethnic studies in public schools across the state, a new bill calling for the instruction of ethnic studies is gaining momentum, with sources close to Brown saying he will likely sign it if it appears on his desk.
Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Democrat, has sponsored a bill (AB 2016) that would require every school district and charter school serving high school students to offer an ethnic studies course beginning in the 2020-21 academic school year. The bill was approved by the Assembly Education Committee in April, and now requires approvals from the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the entire Assembly and from their counterparts in the state Senate before it reaches Brown’s desk for a signature.
Some activists and educators say that the proposed mandate is long overdue.
“Why is it that I learned more about George Washington than Booker T. Washington?” asks Rev. Shane Harris, the 23-year-old president of the San Diego chapter of National Action Network, the civil rights group founded in 1991 by the Reverend Al Sharpton. “Students should not have to wait until they go to college to learn about the spirituality, humanity, and cultural history of ethnic communities in the United States.”
Harris, who has been leading the charge in support of Alejo’s bill, recently met with Brown in Sacramento about the pending legislation and said that the Governor told him that he was supportive of the bill.
“He’s open and willing to sign off on the bill,” says Harris. “And when this happens, it will be a history making moment for California.”
While there have been individualized efforts by school districts across California to push an ethnic studies curriculum, there has been no state issued mandate so far. Last year, Brown vetoed the last piece of legislation saying that it duplicated the work of the Instructional Quality Commission, another state panel that was charged with revising standards to include guidance on ethnic studies courses.
Still, in recent years, Los Angeles Unified—California’s largest school district—and San Francisco Unified school district have added courses in their high schools designed to broaden understanding of the roles played by African-Americans, Latinos and other racial and ethnic groups.
In this regard, the school districts have surpassed heir public university counterparts who have been slashing ethnic studies programs over the past decade.